Dog Spleen Removal – Splenectomy Surgery

The spleen is one of those organs of the body that most people have heard of but many are uncertain where it is and what it actually does. Although it has several important functions, dogs can manage to live a normal life without a spleen if it has to be removed. The most common reasons for removal (splenectomy) are if the spleen has ruptured (usually after a road traffic accident), or if it develops a tumour. Both of these can lead to very sudden illness which needs fast diagnosis and treatment to save the dog’s life.

Biggles in full flight, pictured before he had to have an emergency splenectomy
Biggles in full flight, pictured before he had to have an emergency splenectomy

Biggles the Springer Spaniel has recently had his spleen removed and is recovering well. Although I am not his vet, I helped to care for him during his convalescence, and with his owner’s permission, I would like to tell his story.

Biggles is a typically lively spaniel, who enjoyed a normal Sunday romping around with his companion. On the Monday morning, his owner found him collapsed and weak and had to rush him straight to his vets.

Diagnosing a Tumour of the Spleen

After examination, blood tests and x-rays, his problem was diagnosed as a tumour of the spleen and Biggles was operated on the same day. Unfortunately, his tumour was large and ulcerated which meant Biggles had lost a lot of blood from the circulation into his tummy. As a result, he needed several days of intensive care including fluids by drip and drugs to prevent vomiting and infection.

After several days of hospitalisation at the vets, Biggles began to feel so much better that the challenge was to stop him from doing too much. After major surgery he had to take it very easy, which was hard for him. Very short walks on a lead, away from his boisterous friends, were all that he was allowed during his recovery, but now he is beginning to get back to normal gradually.

Why is the Spleen Important?

So, where is the spleen and what does it do? The spleen is situated on the left side of the abdomen, close to the stomach. It is smaller in size than the liver but larger than a kidney. It is sometimes described as being shaped like a slipper because it is long and narrow with curved borders and has a narrower part in the middle. It is a very vascular organ, meaning it is full of blood vessels and blood storage areas.

The main jobs of the spleen are to act as a blood storage reservoir, to make red blood cells, to filter out and remove old blood cells and to fight infection as part of the immune system. Luckily, these jobs can be carried out elsewhere if the spleen has to be removed.

Position of a dog's spleen
Position of a dog’s spleen

What to Look Out For

If a tumour develops on the spleen, it may grow very slowly but sometimes the symptoms can become apparent very suddenly, as in Biggles’ case. Symptoms can include tiredness, a swollen belly, anaemia (seen as pale or white membranes in the mouth and eyes which are normally pink) and loss of appetite. If the spleen is ruptured by an accident, or if a tumour bleeds heavily, the symptoms will be shock, collapse and possibly death.

The treatment of choice for a ruptured spleen or a tumour on the spleen is surgical removal of the whole spleen. If there is a tumour, checks will be made as far as possible to make sure that it has not already spread to other organs. If there is no evidence of spread, the spleen is removed and a sample of the tumour sent to a laboratory for microscopic examination (histology). This will help to decide if the tumour is benign or malignant, and whether any further treatment such as chemotherapy might be needed.

Not all tumours of the spleen are malignant. One of the more serious types is haemangiosarcoma, which can spread aggressively to other organs. Others can be local to the spleen and benign in character.

I am delighted to say that Biggles showed no signs of tumour spread at the time of his operation, and his histology results were good. There is every chance that Biggles will need no further treatment and will soon forget the whole experience as he continues to enjoy his life.

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